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After Irma: How well are Kingsland & St. Marys recovering?

This article is the second article in a series highlighting the recovery efforts of the cities of Kingsland and St. Marys. The first article highlighted the County’s recovery efforts.

The Cities of Kingsland and St. Marys are still on the road to recovery after the combination of a nor’easter, and Tropical Storm Irma impacted the area in September of 2017.

Much of the recovery has been securing FEMA grant funding to mitigate the areas that need repairs such as the boat docks, stormwater management, and coordination of permitting and other governmental approvals.

Kingsland’s Recovery Post Irma –

AllOnGeorgia-Camden contacted the City Manager, Lee Spell to get updates on Kingsland’s recovery. Spell answered our questions via email.

See Spell’s responses below:

1- Have all the areas in Kingsland that flooded significantly such as Gross Rd, Hydrangea, and Honeysuckle, Wolf Bay, Woodhaven, and the Meadows been significantly mitigated to reduce major drainage concerns as seen in Irma or Matthew going into this next Hurricane season?  The public works department routinely maintains the city’s stormwater drainage system.  This maintenance program includes roadside and outfall ditch maintenance, debris removal, culvert pipe and storm drain/catch basin maintenance.  We have intensified our maintenance efforts since the last two storms and will continue to work with our civil engineers and partners at the State and Federal level to explore areas for improvement.  There are many local drainage areas in need of maintenance and improvement that are extremely challenging due to State and Federal environmental protection regulations.  We are working with our engineering and environmental consultants as well as our State and Federal legislative representatives and agencies to obtain the necessary permits to complete this work.


2 – What has the City been able to correct in the interim regarding drainage without the help of FEMA/GEMA? To use the term “correct” would imply there were defects in the drainage system.  The storm drainage systems in the areas you mentioned were engineered and constructed by developers and their engineering firms.  Upon final inspection, the city generally accepts these subdivisions and the associated public infrastructure for maintenance.  The approved method for calculating stormwater runoff can be found in Sec. 17-61 of the Kingsland Code of Ordinances; Sec. 17-61(b) states “Minimum rainfall intensity shall use a 25-year storm 60-minute duration.  Intensity of rainfall shall not be less than 3.6 inches per hour.”  Both Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017 were calculated to be 100-year or more (Irma possibly a 500-year) storm events, overwhelming both our public infrastructure and natural drainage basins, creeks, and rivers.  There could be much discussion about the balance between building standards, development and construction costs, and their relationship to home prices and economics, but that’s another story. However, we have identified some areas for improvement and are working with our engineers and other resources to see these projects to completion. 


1)    Gross Road (The Lakes) – We expect to award a bid for Gross Road drainage improvements on June 25th.  “A court order dating back to 1993 restricted the amount of stormwater discharge allowed to flow from the “West” side of Gross Road to the “East” side. This court order has since then expired allowing the City to complete planned improvements at both the North and South crossing.  Total estimated project costs are $106,380.00 for the North crossing and $324,960.00 for the South Crossing.  Other long-term improvements are planned but will require coordination and permitting through the DNR/EPD and Army Corp of Engineers.

2)    May Creek – There are several planned improvements for the May Creek area, some of which will being soon and some that will need to be coordinated through joint drainage projects with Camden County.  Total estimated costs for both short and long-term improvements in the May Creek area are $491,904.00.  We have applied for GEMA/FEMA assistance for the long-term projects.

3)    Kingsland West – The Public Works Department has worked hard to perform roadside/outfall ditch and culvert pipe maintenance in this area.  Other planned drainage improvement projects in this area are complicated by the State and Federal environmental regulations protecting the numerous wetlands surrounding these areas.  Long-term plans include the construction of a new drainage canal from Highway 40 to Clarks Bluff Road.  We have applied for GEMA/FEMA funding assistance, but this project is also challenged by the cost of required property acquisition as well as State and Federal permitting costs.  Total costs for these projects are estimated at $2,294,616.00.

4)    S. Grove Boulevard (Summerfield/Innerlake) – Planned drainage improvements include new 48” culvert pipes and a new outfall ditch connecting S. Grove Boulevard with the existing outfall ditch located west of the project near Highway 17.  Again, we have applied for GEMA/FEMA assistance for this $384,960.00 project.  Roadside drainage maintenance and culvert pipe installation/maintenance projects have already been completed in the Summerfield/Innerlake area including the installation of 140 lineal feet of new culvert pipe and maintenance of 6000 feet of roadside ditches.


We have identified up to $700K in current SPLOST VII revenue that may be used to fund some of the projects mentioned above.  Mayor and Council also recently approved a Professional Service Agreement with a local civil engineer that we will use to focus on some smaller short-term improvements that have been identified.  We anticipate that drainage improvements and other critical infrastructure projects will be an important component of the upcoming SPLOST VIII referendum.


3- How much money has the City received, to date, from FEMA/GEMA to help with storm drainage and storm damage? We have five (5) GEMA/FEMA submissions related to Irma storm damage; we have already received $163,761.15 with $126,980.36 still pending.  Further, we have submitted applications totaling $3,674,710.00 in hazard mitigation funding assistance; these applications are pending GEMA/FEMA approval. 


Additionally, the city has applied for and received GEMA Phase I application approval for 13 portable and 1 fixed generators in the amount of $493k, and 4 electronic warning signs @ $60k.  During the recent storms, some homes experienced sewer backups caused by failure of the electrical power grid.  During times of power loss, city lift stations are unable move wastewater through the system.  Continued use of the city water and sewer system coupled with flood water infiltration caused wastewater to backup into some residences.  The new generators, once approved, will allow the city to strategically place and supply power to critical lift stations during times of electrical power disruption.  The electronic warning signs can also be placed at strategic locations to display critical public messages as needed.


4 – Has the city “recovered “ from all the debris removal related to Irma?  Has the City received the promise from Gov. Deal to cover the debris removal cost – and what is that total cost for Kingsland? Thanks to Governor Deals pledge to cover the costs of debris removal; we received 100% reimbursement for all accepted claims in the amount of $225,278.30.

5 – How much has the City spent on property condemnation related to chronic flooding with the city since Mathew and Irma? The city hasn’t spent any local dollars on property condemnation; however, we have applied for GEMA/FEMA Property Acquisition funds through the Hazard Mitigation program for 4 homes that met the criteria totaling $606,751.00 in funding requests.  GEMA has approved the Phase I request, GEMA Phase II is pending and once approved the application will be forwarded to FEMA for approval.

6 – Has the City identified weakness in the City’s drainage systems that need immediate correction and how far along is the city into correcting those concerns to avoid an Irma like event?  See projects 1-4 above.  Also, we continue to be challenged by the local population of beavers that are creating obstructions in critical drainage basins and again, we are also challenged by an overwhelming number of State and Federal environmental protection regulations. 

St. Marys’ Recovery Post Irma –

AllOnGeoriga-Camden was able to interview St. Marys City Manager John Holman.

Holman emphasized that St. Marys never lost water and sewer services during the storm.

“We came close, and we were saved by the fact that people left town during the evacuation. What is occurring now is [St Marys] was awarded a grant to get two emergency generators for two wells. That will allow us to provide full water services with the exception of pipes being damaged,” said Holman.

Clear well repairs in the city are also underway which is where the water aerates. Those wells are expected to be complete this year and continue to move forward, according to Holman.

St. Marys Maritime services took the greatest hit which included multiple boats left damaged in the St. Marys River along with the destruction of the boat docks and piers.

“I am awaiting from [Georgia Department of Natural Resource-DNR] and maritime engineer that the package for the boat ramp and the transient dock permit, the old fireworks dock, should be coming this month from DNR,” said Holman.

Once the city receives the permit, the City should reach an agreement with the insurance company in July to come to the settlement. The insurance company’s maritime engineer is working closely with the city’s engineer to come up with an agreed upon number. The plans will meet DNR regulations for the new transient docks in St. Marys in the future.  The City Council is expected to put a contract out for bid on the boat ramp and transient dock construction which could be as early as August.

City Resiliency Plan –

The city is currently looking to put out for bid contracts for debris pick up for future storms and services that monitor debris pick up/disposal.  Holman said using someone to monitor paperwork and documentation, so the city staff can continue to focus on other important needs.

When asked if all the FEMA payouts have been made for debris removal, Holman said FEMA is getting to reimburse the city, and the paperwork is complete.

“We are waiting for our first checks to come in. These numbers are about $1.5 million. There were some unique aspects such as the boats. I thought I would be rid of those in six months,” said Holman. “I am probably going to have another six months of work on that,” Holman said the reason is following legal requirements of the removal.

Holman said the staff has received emergency management training with people for the next emergency and streamline the process for other emergency services such as identifying extra people needing to stay behind during an emergency.

“We work on these constantly to make sure that we can provide services during storms. I think the most important thing for people to remember, is when there is an announcement of a voluntary evacuation order, the best thing to do is leave,” said Holman.

Holman emphasized in the interview serval times that St. Marys is working cooperatively with the county’s Emergency Management Agency on their unified approach in emergencies.

Regarding overall recovery, Holman said, “We are ‘recovered’ as we are going to get right now. We are going to dig out the remainder of the boat ramp.  The engineers think it is completely unsafe.”

Holman said the digging out of the boat ramp does not include the construction of the ramp. The bid to dig out the ramp is expected to take place in July with a letter from DNR stating removal can occur.

A projected time for the full use of the boat ramp would be closer to December 2018, according to Holman. The contract for the boat ramp and the transient docks will be one contract.

“I was hoping to at least be a month earlier than that, but being realistic, I’d say December. The Mayor said it best when he said, ‘we are going to build it back better,’” said Holman.

The new boat ramp will be handicapped accessible, and Holman said that these new standards force a new change and design for the boat ramp. The older ramps did not meet those standards, according to Holman.

“We are waiting to get our funds back from FEMA, and the city keeps a reserve,” said Holman. The City has received all documentation stating that FEMA funds are on their way.

Holman said that moving the boats that sank in the river was “challenging” because the city had to establish a chain of evidence for FEMA to receive funding for the removal and storage of the boats.

The total cost to St. Marys from Irma is close to $ 2 million where reimbursements for Irma related expenditures is about $1.5 million. Holman emphasized that this amount does not include volunteer time. The city’s insurance paid out $ 1millon to start the recovery.

The Spine and stormwater –

This is an area of the city is part of the sustainability plan. The Spine is a wetland area, and a flood zone, near Bartlett Street where a majority of the stormwater empties. Council is working maintain this area for stormwater management.

The area near Douglas Drive and Watts Street for drainage management is a priority of the city’s storm management project. The bid for a contract was sent out in mid-June.

Holman was asked about the how the densification of two smaller lot sizes from the newly proposed ordinances would impact the current stormwater management plan for St. Marys. Irma was a 500-year storm event that impacted St. Marys which drenched the community with over 20 inches of rain in 48 hours.

“Our stormwater [management] is in good shape. Nobody can handle an Irma. You’re not going to handle that. What we are looking at is downtown on St. Marys Street, that is to mitigate for stormwater. We are putting permeable, not impermeable, paving down there for parking by retention cells and rain gardens so that we can deal with the water better.

On the out-fall line near Ready St., the city plans to gate the area that will help manage the flow of stormwater. The tie-gate will not let stormwater in but instead would coordinate pressure on the land side of the flow causing the pressure to open the gate allowing the water to come out. This will hold water from the river from coming in to fill up the stormwater system during a large storm. This project started around June 18.

“All of these things are being addressed to improve our stormwater resiliency. Council did fund for a stormwater study in the 2019 budget.” Sea-walls are also part of the FEMA mitigation funding to raise the walls on the river to hold back sea-level rising, according to Holman. The wall height is said to be from 15 to 24 inches in height. “Stormwater mitigation is ongoing throughout the city, and that is a primary concern for the Council.”

Related article –

After IRMA: How is Camden County recovering?

Lang Lane Bridge reopens after being destroyed by Irma

Kingsland elected officials dispute storm debris removal charge denied by FEMA




Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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